I Need a New Drug…
…an Anti-Love Drug, perhaps?
Really, can Philip K. Dick’s “mood organ” be far behind?
It’s no surprise to me that love, like everything else biological creatures do, has its roots in brain chemistry- pure mechanical cause and effect, thank you, nothing mystical, magical, or spiritual about it. Which means that some day, maybe not soon, but eventually, we will learn how to manipulate it. We already fumble with the controls, but we’ll get better at it. Unless we destroy ourselves first, of course.
Following a completely different line of musings after listening to the excellent Radiolab ‘cast on morality, I did some revision on my ideas about emotion vs. logic. I have previously come to the conclusion that emotions in humans are essentially just animal instincts coupled with our ability to recognize patterns and ascribe symbolic meaning to memory (which is, in my opinion, what sets us apart from other animals- for now). Emotions, therefore, are not “bad” or something to be ignored- they evolved in us for a reason. They are a tool, a reference point, a valuable part of the decision-making process when tempered by reason.
After listening to that ‘cast (this being the second time I’ve heard it), it occurred to me that emotions/instincts are really logic spread over evolutionary time. They represent the choice that has produced positive results the most consistently over hundreds of thousands of instances during the evolutionary path of a given species. That’s why they are hardwired, reactions, designed to override “logic” in situations where there isn’t time to reason things out.
Which, as I’m writing this, I’m realizing isn’t in any way out of line with what I already think, it just explains another part of the puzzle a little better for me.
One of the moral dilemmas posed in the ‘cast- taken from the final episode of M*A*S*H, as I understand it (and probably from countless real-life instances) is whether or not one would choose to kill their own child in order to save the lives of their entire community.
This is a real tough one for me. One of those situations where you can decide in your mind all you want, but you don’t know what you’d do until you’re actually faced with the decision. So I won’t even bother talking about what I think I’d do. I don’t know.
But more to the point, what’s the morally correct answer? Well, I don’t believe in cosmic morality handed down from on high, which would probably make this a lot easier to answer (which no doubt explains why a lot of people embrace religion- it makes morality ever so much simpler by removing self-determination from the process. Except of course it really doesn’t, which is why pretty much all religious people are hypocrites, even the nice ones. Not that everyone isn’t a hypocrite, most of us just go about it more quietly.)
Where was I?
Oh, yeah. So, this kill-the-baby or not-kill-the-baby thing. As the problem is put, the choices are
A) You personally kill your own baby, and your community is spared.
B) You don’t kill your own baby, it makes noise, and soldiers kill everyone.
So, either way the baby dies, right? From a pure math standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. I won’t explore why people are split 50/50 on the matter- go listen to the webcast if it interests you (which it should). What I can’t help thinking about is… well… hm. Now that I’m trying to figure out how to say this, it sounds kinda fucked up. Maybe it is. You be the judge:
I have my own similar scenario that I’ve played out in my head many times over the past few years. It’s a hostage thing, myself and several others are being held at gunpoint. And I’m being told to do something to aid the terrorists- open a vault or whatever. The obvious threat being that if I don’t, the terrorists will kill someone. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes a stranger. Sometimes someone I care about.
Now, I know what I’d do in real life. I’m an utter coward, and I’d do whatever they wanted me to do to save myself or anyone else. But in my head, where I can be someone better than myself, I refuse. Let them torture or kill me. Even- and here’s where it gets fucked up- let them torture or kill someone else. Even a loved one. And my rationale for this- despite just being generally prone to resisting coercion- is that if I act to help the terrorists, I am committing “evil” (small “e”, subjective evil). If I refuse, and a terrorist shoots my mom, the terrorist has committed the evil act, while I remain… well, for lack of a better word, blameless. Which is fucking bizarre, since I don’t believe in any higher power that assigns blame, and I know for a fact that society at large would not assign blame, so whose blame exactly am I avoiding?
I guess, in the final estimation, it’s my own.
Another scenario I’ve gone over countless times is the classic Spider-Man catch-22. Save Mary Jane, or defuse the bomb. You can’t do both! The Green Goblin is laughing as his glider soars away, there are only seconds left on the timer, and MJ is already plummeting to her doom. Do I dive after the girl I love and let hundreds in the building perish? Do I save the hundreds and let MJ splatter? Aside from the fact that Spidey probably doesn’t know how to disarm a bomb, and aside from the fact that any of the hundreds of other supers zipping around the city will probably catch MJ anyway. These conundrums always exist in a vacuum, or they wouldn’t make very worthwhile thought experiments, now, would they?
So what do I do?
I go after the Goblin and kill him. Every time.
Because, in my mind, the deaths of the Goblin’s victims are not on my conscience. HE set that bomb. HE threw MJ off the roof. And even mathematically speaking, the weight of all his future victims completely overwhelms the consideration of the current ones. If I take him out now, when he’s not expecting it, I can save all of those future victims.
So, you tell me, does refusing to make the who-to-save decision make me a greater hero or a bigger coward?
Ok, so, I’d probably save MJ first, and THEN kill the Goblin.